Evil empire
The phrase evil empire was applied to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 especially by U.S. President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

, who took an aggressive, hard-line
In politics, hardline refers to the doctrine, policy, and posturing of a government or political body as being absolutist and sometimes authoritarian. The hardline position is usually extremist and uncompromising....

 stance that favored matching and exceeding the Soviet Union's strategic and global military capabilities, in calling for a rollback
In political science, rollback is the strategy of forcing change in the major policies of a state, usually by replacing its ruling regime. It contrasts with containment, which means preventing the expansion of that state; and with détente, which means a working relationship with that state...

 strategy that would, in his words, write the final pages of the history of the Soviet Union. The characterization demeaned the Soviet Union and angered Soviet leaders; it represented the rhetorical side of the escalation of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...


British House of Commons Speech

Reagan's chief speechwriter at the time, Anthony R. Dolan
Anthony R. Dolan
Anthony R. Dolan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and was the principal speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan from March 1981 until the end of Reagan's second term in 1989...

, reportedly coined the phrase for Reagan's use. Some sources incorrectly refer to the June 1982 speech before the British House of Commons as the "Evil Empire" speech, but while Reagan referred twice to totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

 in his London speech, the exact phrase "evil empire" did not appear in any speech until later in his Presidency. Rather, the phrase "ash heap of history
Ash heap of history
The ash heap of history is a figurative place to where objects such as persons, events, artifacts, ideologies, etc...

" appeared in this speech, used by Reagan to predict what he saw as the inevitable failure and collapse of global communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

. Ironically, this latter phrase was coined by Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

 revolutionary Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 in November 1917, using it against his opponents (the Menshevik
The Mensheviks were a faction of the Russian revolutionary movement that emerged in 1904 after a dispute between Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov, both members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The dispute originated at the Second Congress of that party, ostensibly over minor issues...

s) and suggesting that communism was the future; the irony may not have been lost on Reagan's speech writers.

First recorded use

Reagan's March 8, 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals
National Association of Evangelicals
The National Association of Evangelicals is a fellowship of member denominations, churches, organizations, and individuals. Its goal is to honor God by connecting and representing evangelicals in the United States. Today it works in four main areas: Church & Faith Partners, Government Relations,...

 in Orlando, Florida
Orlando, Florida
Orlando is a city in the central region of the U.S. state of Florida. It is the county seat of Orange County, and the center of the Greater Orlando metropolitan area. According to the 2010 US Census, the city had a population of 238,300, making Orlando the 79th largest city in the United States...

 is his first recorded use of the phrase "evil empire." Reagan said:
So, in your discussions of the nuclear
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

 freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race
Arms race
The term arms race, in its original usage, describes a competition between two or more parties for the best armed forces. Each party competes to produce larger numbers of weapons, greater armies, or superior military technology in a technological escalation...

 a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. ...
They preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth. They are the focus of evil in the modern world.

In the "evil empire" speech, which also dealt with domestic issues, Reagan made the case for deploying NATO nuclear armed missiles in Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 as a response to the Soviets installing new nuclear armed missiles in Eastern Europe. Eventually, the NATO missiles were set up and used as bargaining chips in arms talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

, who took office in 1985. In 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to go farther than a nuclear freeze. In an atomic age
Atomic Age
The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is a phrase typically used to delineate the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb Trinity on July 16, 1945...

 first, they agreed to reduce nuclear arsenals. Intermediate- and shorter-range nuclear missiles were eliminated.

Global reaction

Michael Johns
Michael Johns (executive)
Michael Johns is an American health care executive, former federal government of the United States official and conservative policy analyst and writer.-Biography:...

, writing for The Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation is a conservative American think tank based in Washington, D.C. Heritage's stated mission is to "formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong...

's Policy Review
Policy Review
Policy Review is one of America's leading conservative journals. It was founded by the Heritage Foundation and was for many years the foundation's flagship publication. In 2001, the publication was acquired by the Stanford University-based Hoover Institution, though it maintains its office on...

 magazine, prominently supported Reagan's assertion. In "Seventy Years of Evil: Soviet Crimes from Lenin to Gorbachev," Johns cited 208 acts by the Soviet Union that, he argued, demonstrated the Soviet leadership's evil inclinations.

Yuri Maltsev
Yuri Maltsev
Yuri Nicholas Maltsev born in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia, is an Austrian school economist and economic historian. He is a Professor of Economics at the Carthage College in Wisconsin and is a Senior Fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama....

, a high-ranking economist in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

 during the 1980s, believed that Reagan was definitely right. He labeled the USSR an "evil empire" in the introduction to the book Requiem for Marx, published in 1993, and in an essay he wrote for the Ludwig von Mises Institute
Ludwig von Mises Institute
The Ludwig von Mises Institute , based in Auburn, Alabama, is a libertarian academic organization engaged in research and scholarship in the fields of economics, philosophy and political economy. Its scholarship is inspired by the work of Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises...

. In his essay, he labeled the Soviet Union an "evil empire," using those exact words. Maltsev had first hand knowledge of the inner workings of the Soviet Union, and concurred with Reagan.

The Soviet Union, for its part, alleged that the United States was an imperialist
Imperialism, as defined by Dictionary of Human Geography, is "the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationships, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination." The imperialism of the last 500 years,...

 superpower seeking to dominate the entire world, and that the Soviet Union was fighting against it in the name of humanity. In Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, the Soviet press agency TASS
Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union
The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union , was the central agency for collection and distribution of internal and international news for all Soviet newspapers, radio and television stations...

 said the "evil empire" words demonstrated that the Reagan administration "can think only in terms of confrontation and bellicose, lunatic anti-communism
Anti-communism is opposition to communism. Organized anti-communism developed in reaction to the rise of communism, especially after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the beginning of the Cold War in 1947.-Objections to communist theory:...


During his second term in office, in May–June 1988, more than five years after using the term "evil empire," Reagan visited the new reformist General Secretary
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the title given to the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. With some exceptions, the office was synonymous with leader of the Soviet Union...

 of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

 in Moscow. When asked by a reporter whether he still thought the Soviet Union was an "evil empire," Reagan responded that he no longer did, and that when he used the term it was a "different era"; that is, the period before Gorbachev's perestroika
Perestroika was a political movement within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during 1980s, widely associated with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev...

 and glasnost
Glasnost was the policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the second half of the 1980s...

 reforms. Still, Reagan remained a critic of the Soviet regime for its absence of democratic
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...


Recent historians, such as Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

's John Lewis Gaddis
John Lewis Gaddis
John Lewis Gaddis is a noted historian of the Cold War and grand strategy, who has been hailed as the "Dean of Cold War Historians" by The New York Times. He is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University. He is also the official biographer of the seminal 20th...

, have grown more favorable towards the use and influence of the phrase "evil empire" in describing the Soviet Union. In his book The Cold War Gaddis argues that, in their use of the phrase "evil empire," Reagan and his anti-Communist political allies were effective in breaking the détente
Détente is the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation. The term is often used in reference to the general easing of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s, a thawing at a period roughly in the middle of the Cold War...

 tradition, thus laying the ground for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.

In popular culture

Following Reagan's use of the phrase, the phrase "evil empire" took on a nearly icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

ic status in popular culture and was used in numerous other contexts:
  • Meant for the Galactic Empire
    Galactic Empire (Star Wars)
    The Galactic Empire is one of the main factions in the fictional universe of Star Wars. It is a galaxy-spanning regime established by the series' lead villain, Palpatine, to replace the Galactic Republic in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The Galactic Empire is introduced in Star Wars...

     in Star Wars
    Star Wars
    Star Wars is an American epic space opera film series created by George Lucas. The first film in the series was originally released on May 25, 1977, under the title Star Wars, by 20th Century Fox, and became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon, followed by two sequels, released at three-year...

  • The band Rage Against the Machine
    Rage Against the Machine
    Rage Against the Machine is an American rock band from Los Angeles, California. Formed in 1991, the group's line-up consists of vocalist Zack de la Rocha, bassist and backing vocalist Tim Commerford, guitarist Tom Morello and drummer Brad Wilk...

     released a 1996 album titled Evil Empire
    Evil Empire (album)
    -Track listing:All songs written and arranged by Rage Against the Machine and all lyrics by Zack de la Rocha.#"People of the Sun" – 2:30#"Bulls on Parade" – 3:49#"Vietnow" – 4:39#"Revolver" – 5:30#"Snakecharmer" – 3:56#"Tire Me" – 3:00#"Down Rodeo" – 5:20...

    , which featured songs generally critical of the United States government, including "People of the Sun
    People of the Sun
    "People of the Sun" is the second single by the American band Rage Against the Machine for their 1996 album Evil Empire. The song is about the Zapatista revolution. Lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha wrote the song after a visit to the Chiapas in southern Mexico. "People of the Sun" also has a music...

    " and "Bulls on Parade
    Bulls on Parade
    "Bulls on Parade" is a song released by Rage Against the Machine in 1996, and can be found on their second album Evil Empire.-Context:"Bulls on Parade" addresses the American military-industrial complex, a situation in which industry urges government to take military action, with the intent of...

  • In recent years, the American professional baseball
    Baseball is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of nine players each. The aim is to score runs by hitting a thrown ball with a bat and touching a series of four bases arranged at the corners of a ninety-foot diamond...

     team the New York Yankees
    New York Yankees
    The New York Yankees are a professional baseball team based in the The Bronx, New York. They compete in Major League Baseball in the American League's East Division...

     has been nicknamed the "evil empire" because of their huge team salaries and success in seemingly obtaining any player of their choice with lucrative contracts. The first usage of this term relating to the Yankees was from Boston Red Sox
    Boston Red Sox
    The Boston Red Sox are a professional baseball team based in Boston, Massachusetts, and a member of Major League Baseball’s American League Eastern Division. Founded in as one of the American League's eight charter franchises, the Red Sox's home ballpark has been Fenway Park since . The "Red Sox"...

     President and CEO Larry Lucchino
    Larry Lucchino
    Lawrence Lucchino, is the current President and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, and a member of John W...

    , after the Red Sox lost out to the Yankees in a bidding war for Cuban pitcher José Contreras
    José Contreras
    José Ariel Contreras Camejo is a right-handed Major League Baseball pitcher who is currently with the Philadelphia Phillies...

    . After initially not commenting on the signing, a frustrated Lucchino told the New York Times "No, I'll make a comment. The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America." The nickname, though derogatory towards the team, has since been embraced by Yankee fans.
  • During the 1980s, the Oklahoma Sooners men's basketball
    Oklahoma Sooners men's basketball
    -1908-1980:The Sooners enjoyed moderate success on the court during this era, posting only 16 losing records in their first 72 seasons. They were coached by 9 different coaches during this period, beginning with Bennie Owen , and ending with Dave Bliss in 1980...

     team, coached by Billy Tubbs
    Billy Tubbs
    Billy Tubbs is a former men's college basketball coach. The Tulsa, Oklahoma native has been the head coach of his alma mater Lamar University , the University of Oklahoma and Texas Christian University .Tubbs was known for his high scoring offense and full-court press defense.Tubbs achieved many...

    , was known to fans of other Big Eight
    Big Eight Conference
    The Big Eight Conference, a former NCAA-affiliated Division I-A college athletic association that sponsored football, was formed in January 1907 as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association by its charter member schools: the University of Kansas, University of Missouri, University...

     schools, particularly Kansas
    Kansas Jayhawks
    The sports teams at the University of Kansas are known as the Jayhawks. They are one of three schools in the state of Kansas that participate in NCAA Division I. The Jayhawks are also a member of the Big 12 Conference...

     and Kansas State
    Kansas State Wildcats
    Kansas State University's athletic teams are called the Wildcats. The official color of the teams is Royal Purple, making Kansas State one of very few schools that have only one official color; white and silver are generally used as complementary colors.Kansas State participates in...

     as "The Evil Empire", due to Tubbs' Sooners' tendency to run up the score on its opponents.
  • Retail giant Walmart is sometimes referred to as the "evil empire" by consumer advocacy groups due to its controversial labor tactics.
  • The American band Of Montreal
    Of Montreal
    Of Montreal is an American rock band from Athens, Georgia. It was founded by frontman Kevin Barnes in 1996, named after a failed romance with a woman "of Montreal." The band is one of the bands of the Elephant 6 collective...

     references America as "The Evil Empire" in the song "Du Og Meg" from their album Icons, Abstract Thee
    Icons, Abstract Thee
    Icons, Abstract Thee is an EP from indie pop band Of Montreal. It was released May 8, 2007, along with the album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and the promo CD single "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse". It is a collection of songs from recent singles, bonus tracks from the vinyl edition...

    , released in 2007.
  • In a 2007 book, The Evil Empire: 101 Ways That England Ruined the World
    The Evil Empire: 101 Ways That England Ruined the World
    The Evil Empire: 101 Ways That England Ruined the World is an anglophobic book written by Steven A. Grasse, the chief executive officer of Philadelphia marketing agency Gyro. It was first published in April 2007 by Quirk Books. In it, the author argues that many of the world's problems were...

    , author Steven A. Grasse lists many alleged crimes committed by the British Empire
    British Empire
    The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

     and editorially makes the claim that the British
    United Kingdom
    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

     acted in an evil fashion, particularly during their global colonial reign, but also afterwards, blaming the British solely for World War I
    World War I
    World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

    , World War II
    World War II
    World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

     and the Great Depression
    Great Depression
    The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

    . The book was ridiculed by critics in the Daily Mail
    Daily Mail
    The Daily Mail is a British daily middle-market tabloid newspaper owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust. First published in 1896 by Lord Northcliffe, it is the United Kingdom's second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun. Its sister paper The Mail on Sunday was launched in 1982...

    . Grasse also states that the British are all homosexual
    Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

    , and that Britain ruined the world by knighting Elton John
    Elton John
    Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE, Hon DMus is an English rock singer-songwriter, composer, pianist and occasional actor...

    . In 2008, Grasse blamed Great Britain
    Great Britain
    Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

     solely for the 2008 credit crisis.
  • Microsoft
    Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

     has long held the reputation as the "evil empire" amongst advocates of free software
    Foss may refer toPeople*Foss , people with the last name Foss*Foss Shanahan , New Zealand diplomat*Foss Westcott , English bishop...

  • The Canadian football
    Canadian football
    Canadian football is a form of gridiron football played exclusively in Canada in which two teams of 12 players each compete for territorial control of a field of play long and wide attempting to advance a pointed prolate spheroid ball into the opposing team's scoring area...

     team the Edmonton Eskimos
    Edmonton Eskimos
    The Edmonton Eskimos are a Canadian football team based in Edmonton, Alberta. They currently play in the West Division of the Canadian Football League . Edmonton is currently the third-youngest franchise in the CFL, although there were clubs with the name Edmonton Eskimos as early as 1895...

     are often referred to by their rivals as the "Evil Empire" due to their success in the last 50 years.
  • Critics' comments referring to big government
    Big government
    Big government is a term generally used by political conservatives, laissez-faire advocates, or libertarians to describe a government or public sector which they consider to be excessively large, corrupt and inefficient, or inappropriately involved in certain areas of public policy or the private...

     and/or Big Business
    Big Business
    Big business is a term used to describe large corporations, in either an individual or collective sense. The term first came into use in a symbolic sense subsequent to the American Civil War, particularly after 1880, in connection with the combination movement that began in American business at...


See also

  • American imperialism
  • Fascist (epithet)
    Fascist (epithet)
    The word fascist is sometimes used to denigrate people, institutions, or groups that would not describe themselves as ideologically fascist, and that may not fall within the formal definition of the word. The Fascist party that developed in Italy in the 1920s rigidly enforced conservative values...

  • Korean Air Lines Flight 007
  • Soviet Empire
    Soviet Empire
    During the Cold War, the informal term "Soviet Empire" referred to the Soviet Union's influence over a number of smaller nations who were nominally independent but subject to direct military force if they tried to leave the Soviet system; see Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and Prague Spring.Though...

  • Soviet Imperialism
  • Soviet Union
    Soviet Union
    The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

External links

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